How to Care for Rats – A COMPLETE Guide
Rats are grateful pets—they are small, playful, inquisitive and easy to handle as long as they’re healthy.
The downside of pet rats is that they almost exclusively rely on their environment to keep them healthy.
The main dangers to rats’ health come from bacteria overgrowth due to incorrect humidity and temperature coupled with waste buildup.
In the wild, rats are surprisingly organized, playful, and make sure they’re squeaky clean; in human-controlled environments as pets, rats will largely depend on the owner to organize things for them, provide them with play and help them maintain hygiene.
Here, we will look at how to care for rats, what is the ideal humidity for pet rats, what temperatures work for them, and some ways to cater to these environments.
How rats live in the wild
In the wild, a typical rat will prefer to create complex burrows and live in a colony that can consist of hundreds of rats!
Rats in a colony will have common nesting and feeding grounds, preferring to move about at night and nap during the day.
A rat will nap about 75% of the time, huddling with other rats if too cold or retreating to a cooler area if too hot.
Being very curious and exploratory, rats will constantly look for new places to play in and new foods to nibble on.
In general, a rat in the wild will flee from extremes; it’s only as a pet that the rat’s health suffers because of exposure to extreme or unideal conditions in our hands.
Ideal humidity for rats
Rats don’t like extremes, such as overly humid or dry environments, meaning their cage should be kept away from bathrooms, kitchens and other sources of flowing water.
Putting them away from AC units and windows so they don’t suffer from the draft is a good idea as well.
The ideal humidity for rats is at a range of 40-70% relative humidity.
Anything lower than that and they run the risk of developing ringtail, which is a disease of their tail that shows up as dark rings or constrictions.
Moreover, a relative humidity lower than 12% has also been seen to cause rats to develop middle ear infections.
On the other hand, high humidity could also increase the spread of bacteria and increased levels of ammonia in the cage, leading to a higher risk of all sorts of infections.
You may also like: Best Humidifier for Rats
Ideal temperature for rats
The ideal temperature for pet rats is 19-23 °C (66-73 °F).
The temperature should go toward the upper end of the range and beyond to 24-26 °C (75-78 °F) in case of pregnant, lactating rats and their pups (up to 4 weeks of age).
If the temperature falls below 20 °C (68 °F), the rat will start shivering, try to huddle, build a nest or scoot somewhere where it’s fluffy and warm.
Lower than that, and there’s again chance of ringtail, which is a disease that can lead to part of the entire tail falling off.
Rats can more easily cope with lower temperatures, since their only solution to overheating is to start licking themselves so the saliva evaporates and helps them cool down.
When they’re healthy, rats will move active and move about, keeping themselves warm.
A rat will typically move about in a cage, creating heat. Depending on what type of cage it is, there will be different amounts of heat dissipated.
Mesh wire cage will dissipate almost all heat but also make the rat very vulnerable to drafts and temperature changes.
Bedding in a mesh wire cage will preserve some of the heat while solid walls, such as stainless steel or plastic, will keep most of the heat.
Where possible, rats should be provided with their own bedding and nesting materials, so they can choose what fits them best and create their own little fluffy, warm nests.
Hence, when considering how to care for rats, especially during sleep, bear in mind that rats benefit from a slightly warmer temperature, up to 30 °C (86 °F), giving them plenty of restful REM sleep.
Ideal bedding and nesting materials
Bedding and nesting materials added to the rats’ cage help them create a micro-climate that suits them.
Rats tend to explore everything around them, so hiding some food tidbits inside the bedding is a great way to promote play and curiosity.
For bedding, cloth that doesn’t unravel easily is the preferred hypoallergenic choice; for nesting, the best materials are:
The bedding material should be washed once a week or changed when it develops an ammonia odor.
Dealing with ringtail
A common problem to rat health related to both incorrect humidity and temperature is "ringtail" aka. Tail Necrosis.
Although it can happen in rats of any age, ringtail is most common in suckling and infant rats.
At first, ringtail appears as inflammation, sores and swelling around the tail.
If the cause isn’t resolved, the tail might need to be snipped off or it might fall off on its own.
Prevention is key but if ringtail happens, some solutions are:
To treat ringtail, experts also recommend daily rubbing of olive oil to moisturize the affected area.
Taking Everything Together - How to Care for Rats
Rats are amazing and grateful pets but rely a lot on the human-controlled environment to stay healthy.
On how to care for rats, when it comes to humidity and temperature, rats need it to be without any sudden changes to stay healthy.
Avoid introducing sudden changes to your rats’ environment and give them enough material so they can build their own shelter and engage in natural, playful behavior.
Observe the behavior of your rats and note how playful they are; if rats are playful, then this is an indication that both the humidity and temperature is suiting their needs.
If rats are going wild, it’s possible something’s bothering them but they can’t express it other than through their actions.
In the wild, rats typically live one year but in a human-controlled environment can live up to 7 years, which is equal to 130 years of age in humans, at which point their itsy-bitsy joints start getting worn out.
While 7 years does go by in the blink of an eye, it’s still quite enough time to build beautiful memories with a healthy, playful rat at your side.